Violence and Discrimination Against Tibetan Women workers

Attached below are extracts from a 1998 report submitted by the Tibet Justice Center, the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children and the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

The report evaluates China's compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in relation to Tibetan women. These extracts deal in particular with Article 11 of the Convention – employment.

Although the article raises some of the particular problems facing Tibetan women workers, it also reveals some of the common problems facing women workers throughout China. These include unequal remuneration for work, sexual discrimination in recruitment, employment ‘fines’ for women (maternity, toilet breaks etc) and sexual harassment among other practices. In addition, many factories employ young female migrant workers who work excessive hours in unsafe conditions resulting in overwork, ill health, occupational disease and accidents and in some cases deaths by overwork.

For the full report please see the Tibet Justice Centre website

Article 11

Article 11. 1. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular:

(a) The right to work as an inalienable right of all human beings;

(b) The right to the same employment opportunities, including the application of the same criteria for selection in matters of employment;

(c) The right to free choice of profession and employment, the right to promotion, job security and all benefits and conditions of service and the right to receive vocational training and retraining including apprenticeships, advanced vocational training and recurrent training;

(d) The right to equal remuneration, including benefits, and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value, as well as equality of treatment in the evaluation of the quality of work;

(e) The right to social security, particularly in cases of retirement, unemployment, sickness, invalidity and old age and other incapacity to work, as well as the right to paid leave;

(f) The right to protection of health and to safety in working conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction.

2. In order to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of marriage or maternity and to ensure their effective right to work, States Parties shall take appropriate measures:

(a) To prohibit, subject to the imposition of sanctions, dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave and discrimination in dismissals on the basis of marital status;

(b) To introduce maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits without loss of former employment, seniority or social allowances;

(c) To encourage the provision of the necessary supporting social services to enable parents to combine family obligations with work responsibilities and participation in public life, in particular through promoting the establishment and development of a network of child-care facilities;

(d) To provide special protection to women during pregnancy in types of work proved to be harmful to them.

3. Protective legislation relating to matters covered in this article shall be reviewed periodically in the light of scientific and technological knowledge and shall be revised, repealed or extended as necessary.


Extracts taken from

A. China’s Assessment: Women's Employment Rights Are Protected

China's Report emphasizes the Women's Law of 1992 and the Labor Law of 1994 as completing a series of laws that better protect equal rights in employment. China also states that under China's Constitution, women have employment rights equal to those of men and that under China's Labor Law there may be limitations on recruitment of women workers only in areas identified as "unsuitable" for women. China reports "by and large" implementation of equal pay for equal work, and certain other improvements in the areas of administrative or judicial protection, maternity leave and vocational retraining. China's Report makes no mention of Tibet or Tibetan women, nor is there any particular reference to the situation of rural women.

B. Our Assessment: Discrimination Against Tibetans and Against Tibetan Women

We found evidence of widespread discrimination against Tibetans generally, whose impact may be falling disproportionately on Tibetan women. In addition, we found evidence of employment practices specifically burdening women. These include: virginity testing, gender-specific hiring and recruiting practices, and employment-related fines and penalties tied to family planning policies. There is also some evidence of sexual harassment.

1.Discrimination Against Tibetans

Most persons interviewed during the Mission complained of widespread discrimination against Tibetans in employment in part because of the language problems -- many Tibetans cannot get a job unless they can speak Chinese. For example, one Tibetan women who had sold flags at a stall in Lhasa reports that her efforts to obtain work in hotels and restaurants failed because she did not speak Chinese. She also reports that Tibetans had a hard time getting permits to run shops for the same reason. As a consequence, most shop owners are Chinese. Another witness describes the "sinocization" of everything in Tibet: "Even for a construction worker's job, you need Chinese language."

Tibetan women felt they were discriminated against compared to both men and Chinese women. Even if they received the same salary, one Tibetan woman reported that Chinese women were given favorable treatment with regard to taking leave and other employment benefits. Hotel workers reported an employment hierarchy favoring Chinese men at the expense of Chinese women and Tibetans, with Tibetan women at the bottom of the hierarchy.

A Tibetan woman bricklayer reported that the Chinese workers received higher wages for easier work. She also stated that the Chinese were given clothing, food and cigarettes while the Tibetans received none of these. At her workplace, Tibetan men received slightly higher wages than Tibetan women for the same work. She also reported verbal abuse of Tibetan workers by Chinese workers.

Another factor in employment discrimination is that people lose jobs because of political activities. People who have been imprisoned for their beliefs are unable to find employment upon release. For example, one woman, whose uncle was considered a political prisoner, described losing her job at a hotel when Chinese nationals took it over from Tibetans.

Exiles report that jobs in occupied Tibet can be obtained through bribes or through connections. An affluent Tibetan woman interviewed during the Mission described her success in obtaining employment because her mother paid a 10,000 yuan (US $1200) bribe and had "connections." After her mother became implicated as a "separatist," however, she lost her job and the entire family plunged into poverty and exile.

TCHRD addresses employment discrimination in Tibet in its 1997 Annual Report, China in Tibet: Striking Hard Against Human Rights, as follows:

In 1997 the PRC issued a "White Paper" on its human rights in 1996 in which it claimed to attach major importance to the protection of workers' rights. Yet China itself admits that a minimum wage has been introduced everywhere except for the "TAR". . . .

Chinese authorities admit that a disproportionate number of public officers in Tibet are Chinese. At the private level, Chinese are also likely to make up a considerable proportion of company employees. In the private trading and natural resources Jinzhu Group -- a spin-off of the government's export-import agency -- only 60 per cent of its 400 employees are Tibetan.

There are numerous reports of Chinese settlers in Tibet receiving preferential treatment with regard to employment opportunities, advancement and work benefits. An appeal letter dated December 1996 sent from Lhasa managed to reach India in early 1997. The author writes: "Jobs at all levels are given to new Chinese settlers. All road construction, engineering work and development projects are run by the Chinese which leaves the Tibetans jobless. The Lhasa Development Bureau is the main Chinese authority in Lhasa responsible for the many Chinese enterprises in Tibet. Tibetan workers have had their jobs taken away and their very livelihood threatened as a result of policies favoring Chinese employees. Older workers have had their benefits stopped while younger workers fail to receive their monthly salaries on time."

2.Virginity Testing

One practice uncovered by the Mission that is inherently discriminatory against women is virginity testing to determine the job applicant's "fitness" for employment. According to one person interviewed, "all the girls had to submit. . . . A woman put her hand inside us to check for virginity." According to this witness, if the women and girls passed the virginity test, they had to sign a contract promising that they would not get married or engage in sexual activity for three years. Reportedly, men and boys had to sign similar contracts. Further investigation is needed to determine how widespread this practice is.

3.Discrimination in Recruitment and Hiring of Women

Women interviewed during the Mission reported overt sex discrimination in recruiting and hiring. For example, one witness noted that it is an accepted practice in Tibet for job advertisements to specify candidates by gender. She further described how court officials in Amdo told her that they would not hire her because she was a woman.

4.Employment Fines, Penalties, and Pregnancy and Maternity Violations

This report already addresses the employment fines and penalties, including loss of jobs, imposed as a result of unauthorized children. Some women also reported to the Mission that they were given extra duties in addition to the harsh withholding of salary and benefits. Others who did not lose their jobs reported extensions of probationary status, demands to repay cost of training, or less favorable working conditions such as night duty.

Lack of adequate maternity leave or accommodation for pregnant workers also appears to be common in Tibet. Some women also reported longer maternity leaves after having a boy than after having a girl, although we do not have evidence that this is a government-sponsored policy. Women also complained of lack of child care facilities and the inability to breast feed their babies because they could not bring their infants to work. One woman reports that day care is available to "upper echelon" officials only.

5.Sexual Harassment

Another woman interviewed during the Mission reports that sexual harassment by Chinese officials occurred in the workplace:

They used to hold us and touch us. The Chinese officials are so used to it. My supervisor did it, so did all the others. They said if we slept with them we would get a better position. Many girls in the village did it for the money.

She felt complaining would be useless and worse, as it would ruin her reputation. Furthermore, she knew of no complaint process.


The evidence of discrimination against Tibetans generally, combined with specific examples of discrimination against Tibetan women, create a concern that Tibetan women suffer not only discrimination as Tibetans, but also discrimination as women. We believe that this subject requires further investigation.


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